The last-minute orders and long lines wrapped around campus bookstores the day before classes start each semester might soon become a memory for Ohio State students.
A new online syllabus catalog will be available for students to use in late October, in time for Spring 2017 scheduling, meaning the last-minute scrambling for textbooks could end.
The catalog is a result of the efforts of Undergraduate Student Government and the Office of Academic Affairs to make course information more readily available and transparent for students.
If professors do not have their syllabi ready before the semester begins, the general syllabi for the course that was originally approved by the university will be shown in place. The program is not mandatory.
The process started last school year. In January, USG unanimously passed a resolution to support student access to view syllabi before scheduling.
Every time a resolution is passed by USG, the registrar’s office gets a copy and sees what it can do to help bring the resolution to life, said Wayne Carlson, vice provost for undergraduate studies and dean of undergraduate education.
For this particular resolution, the office found USG’s goal of syllabi transparency to be very attainable and deserving for OSU students, Carlson said.
“We saw it as a pilot program, so the registrar’s office went ahead and found the online space and put the technology together to create the system,” he said. “It’s a laudable goal and I think it is a goal that we ought to be shooting for.”
USG felt that when students are given their syllabi, the only option for getting course materials was to go to campus bookstores, which can be too expensive for some students. And with access to syllabi before scheduling, students could possibly find other, more cost-efficient resources to use when buying course material.
“If students are given the syllabus a few days before a reading assignment is due, they only have two choices on where to get the books: Barnes and Noble or (Student Book Exchange),” said Mario Belfiglio, a third-year in biology and a member of the University Senate, and Council on Academic Affairs. “Letting students know early about textbooks allows for more transparency about costs and gives students more time to shop around for better prices.”
In addition to textbooks, faculty can upload a list of other potential costs of the course that students can view before registering.
“USG really wanted us to provide more information to students during registration about what individual fees may apply to that course, because we have a growing number of courses that charge additional fees beyond tuition,” said Jack Miner, a university registrar and executive director of enrollment services.
This information is currently available on the course catalog, and will be added to the syllabus website upon its creation.
“The idea is no matter what path somebody goes to look at a course, and no matter what reason they’re looking at a course, in both cases they’re going to be able to see the information to know what fees beyond tuition they may end up getting charged,” Miner said.
Along with affordability, having the syllabus readily available for students to view online could help them gauge whether or not the course is the right fit for their schedule.
For Miner, he believes that having the syllabi present for students to view online could give them comfort and assurance in their choices.
“As students are thinking about scheduling for the next semester they can start to think about questions like ‘Am I ready for this coursework, do I feel like the reqs I’ve taken and other courses I’ve taken have prepared me for this?’” said Miner.
He said that the library can give students a more in-depth look at specific content in courses, going further than descriptions on the online catalog.
“It gives students the opportunity to think about what their schedule’s like if there is a course that has a really intensive workload or really intensive reading load; it could maybe cause them to think about what their other courses are for the semester,” Miner said.
Carlson said that the online catalog could be helpful to students pursuing education in a field that they might not be familiar with, and that looking at different syllabi could help them decide which particular area they are most interested in.
The Office of Academic Affairs sent out an email to faculty late last week giving them information on the syllabus catalog, and asking them to upload their materials, Carlson said.
He said that all of the feedback he has received so far has been positive, aside from a few concerns.
“By in large, my impression is that faculty are very supportive,” Carlson said. “They want to make sure material that they are going to cover in class is known by students.”
The concerns Carlson received surround publishing information too early for it to be reliable, or publishing material that could possibly be seen by anyone in the public.
For some courses, material and topics are developing each day, so publishing a syllabus online months before the beginning of a semester could result in outdated topics and materials.
Carlson said that one professor’s course focuses on the election and the election process, and the professor won’t know what his course will revolve around until the election is over, so any material uploaded beforehand could be inaccurate.
For other professors, they fear that information on syllabi available to the public could interfere with their own research and findings, said Carlson.
However, Carlson said that the firewall surrounding the login, as well as only allowing students and staff that log in using their OSU username and passwords, should diminish any fears of public viewership.
Gerard Basalla, president of USG, and a fourth-year in political science and strategic communication, said that they are expecting a high usage by professors, because the syllabus library also helps OSU with students who transfer to other schools.
“Other colleges ask Ohio State to send over the course information (when students transfer) and we don’t really have that electronically,” Basalla said. “The syllabus library will make students’ lives easier on the back ends with proving what courses they took.”
Carlson said that the online library could also be the push that some departments need to go electronic.
“Many departments are still using paper storage for their syllabi,” Carlson said. “I think they will see this as an opportunity to go digital … and having their faculty turn their syllabi in to the central site satisfies their needs of keeping paper records of it.”
The website, syllabus.osu.edu, has tutorials for professors on how to upload any materials necessary.
Carlson said that student satisfaction will be a main driver in increasing participation among staff, noting that transparency of course information is always of interest to staff at Ohio State.
Students can currently browse the site, but syllabi and information will be sparse before Spring 2017 scheduling.
Correction, Sep. 29: In a previous version of this article, Mario Belfiglio was referred to as a fourth-year. In fact, he is a third-year.